A nonprofit organization is addressing a hairy situation with an eco-friendly solution: turning donated locks into mats that can soak up oil spills.
Matter of Trust, an organization based out of San Francisco, is creating a more environmentally conscious method to clean up oil spills on land and in the ocean by creating mats and tubes out of human hair. The method contrasts with the standard practice of using polypropylene mats made of nonbiodegradable plastic, which ironically requires oil drilling to produce.
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"There are around 900,000 licensed hair salons in the U.S. They can each easily cut a pound or so of hair a week,” Lisa Gautier, owner of Matter of Trust, told CNN. "Our project is to divert this from landfill. It makes much more sense to use a renewable natural resource to clean up oil spills than it does to drill more oil to use to clean up."
Hair is far more effective in that it can soak up to five times its weight in oil and is more naturally abundant than plastic, Gautier said. It takes about 500 grams of hair to create one of their mats, which measures out to 2 square feet and is 1 inch thick. Each mat can soak up about 1.5 gallons of oil.
More than 170 oil spills occurred on land and in the sea in the United States last year, with another 10,000 being spilled from tankers worldwide, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Thailand and Peru both recorded major oil spills earlier this year, amounting to more than 513,000 gallons spilled into the ocean.
Matter of Trust was created in 1998 to address the environmental concerns stemming from oil spills and the subsequent methods of cleaning the spills. The group partnered with an Alabama-based hairstylist who in 1989 created a prototype of the hair mats that could soak up oil.
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The group has been part of several major spill cleanups, including the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, which is considered to be the largest marine oil spill in history.
Today, salons, pet groomers, and other donors send hair clippings to the San Francisco organization to create mats and tubes for cleanups. Matter of Trust has produced more than 40,000 hair mats and 300,000 tubes, according to the organization.